Some might be surprised to learn that I am a real cheapskate. Like, one of the worst. I don’t totally blame myself and I make a big effort to abandon my contemptible habits. That’s part of what this month of $100 giveaways is about for me.
As I was growing up, my mother took her role as the family economist very seriously in a world she perceived to be full of people trying to take advantage by charging too much. Anything not store brand, on sale, day old or sold in a discount store was automatically “extravagant”, too expensive and off limits.
I didn’t know it then, but our family’s financial situation did not actually warrant this perspective. My father was a professional with a steady job and we lived in a nice home in the suburbs. And now, as a physician, there is no rational reason for me to be the cheapskate that I am. I guess that is the nature of being a cheapskate. I have noticed that most people have an easier time parting with their money than I do, even when they have less of it. While I consider myself basically frugal (and I think I do have a few sound ideas about money), the reflexive and relentless pursuit of a bargain comes from some deeply scarred place in my soul where times are truly tough.
All this to explain why I usually park 10 blocks from my office, where there are no parking meters, rather than pay $5 for parking. Paying for something that you can get for free is downright stupid and basically inexcusable where I come from.
As I was leaving the office today I realized I had time to do a quick errand downtown and revisit my random giveaway plan from yesterday. Starting my trek back to the car, I saw the bus approaching and decided to jump on for the short ride. (I have a discounted transit pass available through my employer – I would never pay $2.00 to ride 10 blocks). There were a whole bunch of people at the stop. I was lost in my own little world and didn’t take in much, except for one very cute little boy of about two standing with his hands on his hips as his dad struggled to collapse his stroller.
The bus pulled up, the door opened and everyone just stood there, which seemed really strange. Okay, maybe they were waiting for a different bus or just a bunch of losers. After a split second I marched through the crowd and started up the steps. The driver immediately put his hand out as if stopping traffic and shouted, “Hold on!” Bomb scare? What? Then I noticed a tiny woman in a wheelchair on the sidewalk and realized that everyone else had been patiently waiting for the ramp to come down so she could board first. DUH. What an idiot!
I made damn sure I was the very last person to get on and squeezed into a slot up front since I was only going a few stops. The bus was packed and the driver kept imploring everyone to “move back, please step back, move on back. Please move back.” It took forever and I could see his patience draining away. When we finally got moving I told him I hadn’t been paying attention and felt like a fool for not noticing the woman in the chair. “Oh, don’t worry about it!”, he soothed. “It’s the end of the day. For some.”
Riders kept signaling for a stop and then changing their mind. One guy started to get off, then decided to get back on and could no longer find a place to stand. We swept right by the the next stop, and the people waiting were gesturing with disbelief and frustration. I was pressed up against the back of the driver’s seat and kept catching his eye in the rear view mirror. He was keeping his cool, but clearly exasperated. “Maybe this day should be over for me!” he said, with a pained chuckle. He said his shift had just started. I imagined this kind, young handsome guy getting home late at night to his family, his kids asleep as he goes to give them a kiss. It really bothered me that his day was off to such a rough start.
As the bus pulled up to the next stop, I reached into my pocket for the $100 bill. I folded it up real small. I sidled up to the driver and slipped it into his hand, saying “I hope you have a good day after all”. He exhaled with a grunt and I could feel a question rising up behind me as I skipped down the steps and out onto the sidewalk.